The future of shopping: How the metaverse will change the way we shop

In 1995, we got a glimpse of the future of fashion through the movie “Clueless.” No, it is not about the plaid-argyle costumes but Cher Horowitz’s virtual wardrobe. A computer presents an image of her and allows her to mix and match pieces. It was the most-envied closet of the time.

Still from the movie "Clueless"

Fast-forward 26 years later and we get to see another way of virtual dressing courtesy of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg when he rebranded his company Meta and gave everyone a glimpse of the metaverse, a limitless world where people can connect, go to places, and even change clothes digitally through an avatar. In his case, the looks include a skeleton leotard, a spacesuit, and a casual pair of a chill sweater and dark jeans.

Metaverse is hardly a new term. In 1992, Neal Stephenson first used the term in his dystopian cyberpunk novel “Snow Crash.” From then on, we have seen many interpretations of virtual reality, from other literary works like “Ready Player One” and “Heir Apparent” and movies “The Matrix” and “Tron Legacy” to a myriad of digital games today. Of course, with its nature of being first on things, fashion also took the digital leap.

With the renaissance of the Y2K vibe, fashion brands are led not to only reimagine their works but also to create online products of their own. Gucci launched their virtual sneakers, Balmain and JW Anderson jumped into non-fungible token pieces (NFTs), and Balenciaga and Louis Vuitton put their fashion into digital gaming. These are just a few of the many brands that are making their way to the metaverse with their intangible designer creations. But with the industry’s ephemeral and materialistic nature, is this digital trend here to stay and how will it affect the way we shop, especially here in the Philippines.

Renan Pacson

Locally, while many think fashion playing on the digital landscape is only depicted through e-commerce shops and other retail platforms, some industry creatives are already dipping their toes on the idea of bringing their brands to the metaverse. Among them is Filipino designer Renan Pacson. After being introduced to 3D fashion design software such as Browzwear and CLO3D, the designer is now partnering with Korean software company Z-emotion, the firm behind computer-aided design application Z-weave, for his upcoming digital collection “Meta Filipina,” to be showcased at the Panasonic Manila Fashion Festival 2022.

“Making 3D clothes also led me in customizing my own avatars so I had to learn the basics of Daz3D (a 3D model software). currently taking online courses the fundamentals of Blender (3D computer graphics toolset) see which suits my needs and patience,” he tells the Manila Bulletin.

Renan's design drafted using Z-weave

Renan's 3D model wearing his design created using Daz 3D

Apart from him, DBTK, a local streetwear brand, has also released its own collection of NFTs. Fashion influencer Heart Evangelista as well has turned her artworks into NFTs, which garnered almost P3 million. By the looks of it, it is not far to see the Philippine retail landscape from going big into the metaverse as there is an audience for it.

Backing that view is design and merchandising educator at the Fashion Institute of the Philippines Wilbur Lang. He believes that going into the metaverse provides more opportunities for Filipino fashion to be seen and offers a retail experience unlike any other to local consumers.

Wilbur Lang

“It’s all about what’s next, what’s new, and what’s exciting,” Lang says. “For me, anything that makes the e-commerce experience better and thrilling than what we have now is great. Imagine being able to shop in a metaverse version of SM Fashion Hall, Shangri-La Plaza, Power Plant Mall, or Greenbelt without leaving the comfort of your own home; that to me will be such a great experience!”

Even going global is not far behind as Pacson explains, “Imagine walking into a fancy store in Paris and trying on clothes without having to leave your couch! Do virtual fittings for your customized garment without getting up from your office desk. The environmental impact of the concept is also very appealing.”

But while all these are promising tales of local fashion’s exodus to the virtual world, with only pixels, online experience, and authentic certificates on hand, is there still a place for clothes in this virtual space? As Vox’s Terry Nguyen wrote, “Virtual clothes cannot be slotted into our closets as functional substitutes.”

Nothing beats feeling a satin fabric draped on the body, or the weight of jewelry on your neck, or seeing the patterns made by Filipino weavers up close and personal, for now. The past year has also been a revelation when it comes to how international luxury labels see the potential in the Filipino market, opening boutiques and concepts with a mix of their signature aesthetic and Filipino flair, luring more to come and visit physical stores.

Fashion going to the metaverse in the country is still in its embryonic stage. And while adapting to this is seen as the right step toward the future of style and retail, there are still a lot of things that need to be coded to mimic those clothing experiences for Filipino shoppers to fully jump and turn it from being just a fad or a trend to a full-blown clothing cycle, especially in our post-pandemic world.

“Of course, nothing beats the original thing but who has the luxury of actually going to shopping districts these days?” Lang says. “Also, as a person who spends hours just trying to perfect the outfit of my Sims character, I should be able to have options!”

“I think it’s truly exciting and I hope Filipino shoppers will see the value of it,” Pacson adds. “I am an old school when it comes to shopping where I like to physically touch everything, but with all the lockdowns I slowly learned how to enjoy shopping online. Shopping for the metaverse and for your metahuman will be the next step in the years to come.”